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Have you ever heard a cheerleading squad do one of those call-and-response bits where they say, "Seniors yell it!", and then the seniors yell, "Fight! Fight", and then they say, "Juniors yell it!", and so forth? Top Chef brand extensions are kind of like that: All-Stars yell it! Dessert chefs yell it! Veterans yell it! Healthy chefs yell it! Former contestants yell it!

Top Chef has become the Real World/Road Rules of food, where if you play your cards right (and/or act like an utter buffoon), your initial appearance can lead to not only other Top Chef stuff, but other food things on other food networks — like, for example, Food Network.

And now, they've introduced another incarnation, Top Chef Duels. This one will take past contestants and set them against each other in full, hour-long battles made up of several challenges. The premiere, which airs on Bravo Wednesday night, pits molecular gastronomists Marcel Vigneron and Richard Blais against each other. Marcel was originally on Top Chef in 2006 and Richard in 2008, so they've been at this for a while. They've both done All-Stars, they've both done other stuff — they both even had their own shows briefly.

The show does its best to drag out the "Marcel is a little brat" angle that they were working eight years ago, but it's pretty stale at this point. (By the way, I once was at an event where Marcel served liquid nitrogen-frozen popcorn balls. They tasted like ... frozen popcorn, although they did cause me to exhale dragon smoke, which I guess was the point?) They try to scrape the bowl, as it were, for the last few teaspoons of hostility between the two, the better to create the kind of sniping of which many of us have grown tired.

The problem, as is the case with many similar projects, is that at one point, Richard mentions that Marcel texted him the night before, calling him "Grandpa." So, you know. They're texting each other the night before the competition, meaning they've pretty fully transformed themselves from actual prickly competitors (which many people on Old Original Top Chef pretty clearly are) to old hands at giving this particular production what it needs.

Thus, the attempt at personal drama is a flop from the start, leaving us with the actual cooking. At first, it's pretty flat: it's hard in a world of Chopped and especially Cutthroat Kitchen to make up cooking challenges that seem fresh. But late in Top Chef Duels, they do find some interesting angles with blindfolds and so on that serve as good reminders that these folks are, in fact, pretty inventive and good at what they do. (There is also a moment when Gail Simmons seems either spiritually or actually tipsy, and all Top Chef incarnations are better when the judges are — again, either in fact or in effect — boozing.)

So is this really necessary? No. No, it is not. But if you want to see a guy make fruit out of livers, this is the brand extension for you.


A few months back, Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, brought a bill to the floor that basically offered tax incentives to businesses and individuals. Those incentives are called tax extenders.

They include big stuff and small stuff — tax breaks for wind farms, tax breaks for schoolteachers who buy their own supplies. Tax breaks for rum producers in Puerto Rico, people who make movies, race track owners, even some breaks for people who bike to work. In other words, something for every lawmaker to take home.

This should have been a slam dunk. And at first, it was. Ninety-six senators gathered in the chamber shortly after Wyden's speech, and all voted in favor of moving the bill forward. But two days later, this bill, with 96 out of 100 supporters, was stopped cold. To anyone watching, it might have looked like some special kind of insanity.

But Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow with the tax policy center at the Urban Institute, says look closer.

"This is all fairly well planned," he says. "This isn't World War I, where we kind of accidentally stumbled into a catastrophe."

He says he does understand how frustrating it is for Americans to watch this process: "It's either frustrating or amusing. If you actually watch this on C-Span and you don't get the joke, it has to be very frustrating."

That leads to things like a rally outside the Capitol on a recent afternoon of Republicans who were upset with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for not bringing House bills to a vote.

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Like it or not, television has the power to shape our perceptions of the world. So what do sitcoms, dramas and reality TV say about poor people?

In life and on TV, "poor" is relative. Take breakfast. For Honey Boo Boo's family, it's microwaved sausage and pancake sandwiches. For children in The Wire's Baltimore ghetto, it's a juice box and a bag of chips before school. On Good Times, set in the Chicago projects back in the 1970s, it was a healthier choice: oatmeal. "If you're poor, it goes a long way. And it's pretty cheap," laughs Bern Nadette Stanis, who played Thelma Evans on Good Times.

Good Times debuted in 1974, in the midst of a recession. Many people were struggling. For a time, it was one of the highest rated shows on TV, but Good Times also drew criticism for giving the impression that being poor isn't so bad, as long as there's love. But Stanis says, judging from personal experience, that's true. "I too was raised in the projects in Brooklyn, in Brownsville. I lived in a two bedroom apartment with my mom and dad and five children. So there were seven of us. But we also were rich in education and in love," says Stanis.

Good Times also tackled some of the bad times facing poor communities, like drug addiction and gangs. Norman Lear, who co-produced the show, says that above all, they wanted to make people laugh — but they also wanted story lines that resonated. Before the 1970s, he adds, TV pretty much ignored poor people. "The biggest subjects in television comedy were 'The roast is ruined and the boss is coming to dinner,' or 'Mom dented the car and how do the kids and mom keep dad from finding out,'" says Lear. "There were no political problems. There was no poverty. That was the total message wall to wall, floor to ceiling," Lear says.

There's a lot of debate about the subject of entertainment TV's depiction of poverty. Do audiences empathize with the poor people they see or look down on them?

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For All Things Considered's series on Men in America, we asked the guys out there: What are the movies that make you cry? While reading through the 5,000+ responses, we started to notice a recurring theme — or should we say, a recurring man: Tom Hanks.

Hanks was mentioned far more than any other actor and for a wider array of performances — from Captain Phillips to Philadelphia, among many others.

So what makes him the master emotional manipulator in Hollywood?

We actually put that question to Hanks' agent in Hollywood, but haven't heard back. So instead, let's take a look at some of his most-cited performances.

Editor's Note: We're talking about the emotional climax of a lot of movies here. Suffice it to say, you've been warned about a boatload of spoilers.

Forrest Gump

This movie can be an emotional roller coaster at times, but there are a few scenes that were mentioned over and over again. The first arrives when Forrest meets the son he didn't know he had.

"But...is he smart or is he..." asked Forrest Gump of little Forrest. #menpr

— Richard Yeh (@ryeh) July 31, 2014

Fast-rising mobile technology is making buying stuff with a tap of an app easier than ever, and shifting the way we shop. What were once permanent, brick-and-mortar stores, where shoppers look at items in a physical space, are now often pop-ups first — shops that last for a limited time only.

Pop-up shops are temporary retail spaces that spring up in unused premises. Leases can last as short as a single day, when brands use the spaces for a promotional event instead of testing out a market.

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In a finance move you might have missed this week, Dollar Tree bought up Family Dollar. It's a marriage made in cheap, plastic goods heaven, at a time when dollar stores can provide a glimpse into the disconnect between an improving economy and stagnating wages.

Dollar stores were doing brisk business throughout the recession, but their profits have shrunk recently, partly because the economy is recovering. On Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its jobs report for the month of June: For the first time since 1997, the economy added more than 200,000 jobs for six months straight.

But the jobless rate remains stubbornly mediocre at 6.2 percent. People are still worried, which was clear on a recent visit to a Dollar Tree in Los Angeles County, where there were still a lot of people looking to stretch their dollars.

"You take each day at a time. Some days I have money, some days I don't," said Latonya Wright, who was shopping for her son's frozen dessert business.

Wright said it is hard to tell whether or not the economy is getting better.

"You listen to the news and they say the economy is bad and stuff," she said, "but when you go to the malls or drive past any stores, you see people shopping."

She's right. The Commerce Department announced on Friday that consumer spending has grown by 2.5 percent this quarter. But at the same time, federal statistics show that the poorest Americans are earning less than they did a decade ago.

“ Until the unemployment rate gets a little bit lower, and employers are really competing to hire people, wages are going to stay kind of where they are.

He didn't need a stretcher — not even an arm around his shoulder.

Kent Brantly, of Fort Worth, Texas, is the first person to be treated for Ebola on American soil. The 33-year-old family doctor surprised everyone Saturday when he walked out of an ambulance and into an Atlanta hospital.

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Analysts who fear health spending is accelerating got plenty of evidence in Wall Street's second-quarter results to support their thesis. But so did folks who hope spending is still under control.

Now everybody's trying to sort out the mixed message.

The answer matters because deficit debates and affordability concerns revolve around forecasts that health spending will speed up as the economy revives. National health spending rose only 3.7 percent in 2012, the most recent year for complete results.

If costs don't rise, the future looks better for consumers, employers and taxpayers.

Shots - Health News

Who Really Pays For Health Care Might Surprise You

Anthony Matthews is something of a master of the customer complaint. He's sent detailed, humorous letters to car companies, hotels and airlines — with successful results. He posts his carefully composed missives and the companies' responses at his website, Dear Customer Relations, which is also his characteristic opening line.

The letter that started it all was written on a typewriter 25 years ago.

Hear The Full Rover Complaint

"Hello. Are you registered to vote in Colorado?"

It's a refrain many in the state have grown to loathe this summer – heard outside their favorite grocery store or shopping mall as signature gatherers race toward an August 4 deadline to put four energy-related measures on the November ballot.

With two of those measures backed by environmentalists, and the other two by industry-supported groups, all of the energy talk is leading to confusion among potential voters.

Among the hassled Colorado shoppers is Veronica Canto, a registered independent from Denver. On one day, she was approached by signature gatherers three separate times while visiting the downtown 16th Street Mall.

"They come up and out of nowhere. You're like, uh, man," says Canto, who works in education and says she hasn't had a lot of time to research oil and gas development.

"The only reason I thought about fracking today, for like the two minutes after, maybe, they left, was because they had asked me," she says.

Gov. John Hickenlooper had hoped to pass legislation that would stave off some of the ballot measures, but those efforts stalled mid-July. And lately, many Coloradans who don't normally think about energy are being deluged with messages by groups with very different agendas.

Sometimes, voters don't know what the petition they're signing actually stands for.

"You have both sides of the fracking issue, and they're putting out their talking points and they're spending lots of money, trying to persuade the electorate to their views," explains Kyle Saunders, a political science professor at Colorado State University. "And all that conflicting information can really muddy the issue for voters."

A few blocks away on the 16th Street Mall, signature gatherer Jessica Cerise is at work for the pro-environment group Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy.

Fired up, Patrick Klimper signs her petitions - backing a measure that would increase setbacks between wells and homes from 500 to 2,000 feet, and a second one aimed at giving communities that ban fracking more legal protections in court.

"All I know is that we need to get rid of fracking, that's the big thing. I just think it's not great for the environment," he says.

So far voters in five Colorado communities have placed restrictions on fracking. But this July, a district court judge struck down one of those measures.

Inside a Denver high-rise office building, signature gatherer Telbe Storbeck talks to workers at the commercial real estate firm Cassidy Turley.

Storbeck explains his measure is supported by an industry-backed group called Protecting Colorado. The measure he's promoting would prevent communities that ban fracking from accepting state oil and gas tax dollars.

"So it takes away that – so it's this fairness issue," he explains.

Most workers gathered in this conference room see their jobs in real estate linked to the energy industry – including Managing Director Steward Mosko.

"We're as close to being activists in these types of things as possible. We have to be because it affects our livelihood," he says.

Mosko signed the first initiative, and a second one that would require future ballot issues to have fiscal impact statements.

But back at the 16th Street Mall, Canto says her interactions with signature gatherers were unhelpful.

"I would say that even reading the information that they had and having them speak to me – they're both just as confusing as each other," she says.

Canto says she hasn't made up her mind yet on the topic. She intends to weigh both sides of the issue, judging how it will affect her life. All she knows now is that she won't be turning to signature gatherers for help.

About 100 miles north of Flagstaff, Ariz., a long dirt road ends at a precipice. Thirty-five-thousand feet below, the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers meet at the floor of the Grand Canyon.

Developer R. Lamar Whitmer took one look at this stunning view and saw opportunity. He envisions a gondola ride, two hotels, a restaurant, a cultural center, an amphitheater and an elevated walkway along the river's edge.

Whitmer believes the project would keep Navajos from moving off the reservation to find jobs.

Code Switch

The Map Of Native American Tribes You've Never Seen Before

The violent intensity of the month-old war between Israel and Hamas raises the question of whether Israelis and Palestinians have any empathy for each other.

A generation ago, they used to routinely rub shoulders.

Just how tense things are between Israeli Jews and their Arab neighbors is something my colleague Daniel Estrin recently witnessed at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

In the waiting room, he found two Israeli women shouting at a Palestinian mother whose son was being treated for a beating he received from a Jewish mob.

The Two-Way

U.S. 'Appalled' By Deadly Airstrike Outside U.N. School In Gaza


Months after a girl took the company to task for its female toy figures, Lego has released the Research Institute, a play set created by a "real-life geophysicist, Ellen Kooijman," the company says.

The set will let kids take on the roles of paleontologist, astronomer and chemist, using three female figures. It might also satisfy some of the demands set forth earlier this year by Charlotte Benjamin, a 7-year-old who wrote a scathing letter to the company accusing its female characters of being boring.

"I love Legos," Charlotte wrote. But, she continued, there aren't enough girls — and the ones the company has made just "sit at home, go to the beach, and shop," while the boy characters "saved people, had jobs, even swam with sharks!"

The girl's letter attracted widespread attention — and within a week, Lego responded, saying "we have been very focused on including more female characters and themes that invite even more girls to build."

The new research kit, which includes a telescope, a T-Rex model and a lab set, was selected by Lego Ideas, a program that lets customers submit their own suggestions for projects. In what could be a total coincidence, the company said it was reviewing the set for possible production just two days after Charlotte's letter began going viral.

We spotted the new playset in a blog post over at io9 this weekend. You can read Kooijman's review of the product she helped design, in a blog post that ends with the line, "Cheers to science and good play!"

The new Research Institute set costs about $20 — but it's currently out of stock, a look at the Lego online store shows.

The set continues a streak of more female-centric releases from the toy company — a trend that led NPR's Neda Ullaby to ask last year, "Girls' Legos Are A Hit, But Why Do Girls Need Special Legos?"

Back in 2011, Lego began a push to tailor more of its products to girls, introducing the Lego Friends series of toys. But a backlash ensued, complete with a petition posted on Change.org that attracted tens of thousands of signatures. It asked the company "to stop distinguishing between toys for girls and those for boys," as NPR's Tell Me More reported.

It seems the complicated question of whether boys' and girls' Legos should be different — and how — persists. A look at the Lego online store's "Girls" category today finds that its recent releases include a horse stable, a play house, a shopping mall — and a "Model Catwalk."

When my translator and I arrive in a crowded, dusty neighborhood in Karachi, Fatima Noor is waiting in a full black burka. But she pretends not to see us.

She turns down the alley and disappears. We follow her into a neighborhood, where the buildings are so close together that Noor's burka brushes the walls.

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There is no chance of finding any of the more than 150 people who are believed to have been buried by a massive landslide in northern Nepal, an official said Sunday, as rescuers struggled to dig through piles of rock, mud and trees.

Rescuers have so far recovered only eight bodies since the landslide early Saturday blocked a mountain river, causing the water to form a lake that was threatening to burst and sweep several villages. Fresh rainfall on Sunday hampered search attempts.

"We have no chance of finding any of the missing people alive under this pile of debris," said Yadav Prasad Koirala, who heads the government's Department of Natural Disaster Management. "We have names of 159 people who are believed to be missing and buried, but there could be even more people."

Koirala said it was even difficult for bulldozers and heavy equipment to move the debris that crushed dozens of houses in the village of Mankha, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Katmandu, Nepal's capital.

Gopal Parajuli, the chief government administrator in the area, said the water level and mud was making the rescue work very difficult, and that army troops used explosives to try to alleviate a dangerous buildup of water.

The controlled explosions managed to knock down part of an earth wall that had blocked a river and created a temporary dam, allowing some water to flow out, but much of it still remained trapped, posing an immediate threat to downstream villages as far away as India, Parajuli said.

He said the amount of water flowing out of the dam and pouring in was almost the same Sunday morning as the previous day, keeping the water level stable.

A Mankha resident who was among the dozens of people injured by the landslide said he feared his entire village had been wiped out.

"There are nearly 100 people in the 60 houses in my village and 20 more people in the neighboring village who were buried by the landslide. All of them are likely dead," Durga Lal Shrestha said Saturday from his hospital bed in Katmandu, where he was flown by helicopter.

Shrestha, who suffered bruises on his face and arms, said he and his family heard a rumbling sound and the ground shook like an earthquake.

"The walls in my house caved in, but the roof was fine and that is how we were able to survive," he said. "When we came out, it was dark and muddy. Everyone was screaming and it was a chaotic situation."

About 40 people were injured. Besides Shrestha, 10 others were flown to Katmandu for hospital treatment, including a Belgian man.

The Arniko highway, which connects Nepal to Tibet, remained closed on Sunday.

In neighboring India's Bihar state, authorities evacuated thousands of villagers after flood warnings were issued in eight districts at risk of flash floods. Indian army soldiers and air force helicopters and jets were being readied to launch relief and rescue operations, said Anirudh Prasad, a top official in Patna, Bihar's capital.

Landslides are common in mostly mountainous Nepal during the rainy season, which runs from June through September.

A landslide in May 2012 killed at least 26 people when an avalanche blocked the Seti river in northwestern Nepal. The walls burst, causing a flash flood that swept several downstream villages.

The first of two American aid workers infected with the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia reportedly arrived in Atlanta today to begin treatment. Dr. Kent Brantly has been living in quarantine conditions since realizing he had been infected with the disease last month.

"The medical plane transporting American Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly has landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia," CNN reported, citing Phoenix Air, the company that operates the chartered plane. Shortly after noon (ET), the network's TV feed cut to a helicopter camera tracking an ambulance driving on Atlanta's interstates.

Update at 2:55 p.m. ET: Writebol Remains Stable

The North Carolina-based mission organization Nancy Writebol serves with says that Writebol, who was infected along with Brantly, remains "in serious, but stable condition" and will head to the U.S. "in a few days" to be treated at Emory University Hospital.

The group, SIM, says Writebol will travel in "the same medical evacuation plane that brought that brought Brantly back to the U.S. for treatment." It adds that her husband, who is also in Africa, will soon travel to Atlanta as well, on a separate flight.

Update at 12:30 p.m. ET: Patient Arrives At Hospital

Live TV footage from WSB-TV's traffic helicopter showed the ambulance was following as it arrived at Emory University Hospital, about an hour and a half after the plane landed.

A person in a containment suit waited at the rear of the ambulance. After a brief delay, another person in a containment suit stepped out of the vehicle, then turned and helped a third, suited, person out of the ambulance before taking them by both hands and guiding them carefully through the hospital door.

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Four years of brutal sectarian war in Syria has devastated the lives of nearly 10 million people.

But one group among them stands out: the children of Syria.

In a new documentary, Children of Syria, BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet tells the stories of six young Syrians, age 8 to 14, and the extreme challenges they face, regardless of what side of the war their families are on.

Doucet, who has reported from the front lines of the conflict, shares some of those stories with NPR's Scott Simon.

Nearly two dozen diaries and notebooks of Siegfried Sassoon — among a handful of prominent soldier-poets whose artistic sensibilities were forged in the trenches of World War I — are being published online for the first time by the Cambridge University Library.

Sassoon, who served in the British Army, was a "gifted diarist [who] ... kept a journal for most of his life," the library says.

"The papers include a run stretching from 1905 to 1959," the library says of the diaries and journals made public to coincide with the centenary of the start of the war.

"At the heart of this series are the war diaries, a fascinating resource for the study of the literature of the First World War which enables a fresh analysis of Sassoon's experience of the catastrophic war which influenced him profoundly," the library says.

As the BBC reports:

"Until now only Sassoon's official biographer — Max Egremont — has had access to the complete 4,100-page archive due to its fragile state.

"Librarian Anne Jarvis said the war diaries were of 'towering importance.'

"The journals, which are made freely available online from Friday, offer a unique insight into life on the front line during World War One.

"Writing in a 'distinctive' but clear hand, Sassoon describes life in the trenches, including the moment he was shot by a sniper at the Battle of Arras, and his depiction of the first day of the Battle of the Somme as a 'sunlit picture of hell.' "

A Pentagon plan to cut tens of thousands of soldiers from the U.S. Army's ranks in coming years goes too far given the growing global threats, including Russian aggression in Ukraine and unrest in Syria and Iraq, a bipartisan review panel says.

In an advance copy of a report, Ensuring a Strong U.S. Defense for the Future, that was obtained by NPR's Tom Bowman, a panel that includes former Defense Secretary William Perry and retired Gen. John Abizaid, who was the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, warns that the proposed cuts are too deep.

"Since World War II, no matter which party has controlled the White House or Congress, America's global military capability and commitment has been the strategic foundation undergirding our global leadership," the report's authors write. "Given that reality, the defense budget cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, coupled with the additional cuts and constraints on defense management under the law's sequestration provision, constitute a serious strategic misstep on the part of the United States."

"The effectiveness of America's other tools for global influence, such as diplomacy and economic engagement, are critically intertwined with and dependent upon the perceived strength, presence and commitment of U.S. armed forces," they write.

But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel disagrees with the panel, according to Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby.

The panel endorses the Pentagon's plans in some areas, such as trimming pay and medical benefits, but it says the recommendation to draw down the Army to 450,000 goes too far. Instead, the panel says the Army should not go below 490,000 — the same figure that Army leaders had wanted.

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